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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Pasco Seven Springs Middle prepares to require uniforms

Students at Seven Springs Middle School in Trinity could find themselves wearing uniforms next fall. They'd be the first in Pasco County to face such a restrictive dress code.

Their parents and administrators have been discussing the idea of mandatory uniforms for a few months now, according to PTSO minutes. The January minutes indicate that the move is close to certain, with a town hall meeting planned for March and uniform preorders to take place in April.

This isn't a total surprise.

Principal Chris Dunning told the Tampa Bay Times in September that he was exploring this option, after coming under fire for having students wear "out of dress code" t-shirts when they came to school dressed inappropriately in his judgment. Superintendent Kurt Browning said Seven Springs and other schools had to stop using these "shame shirts," as some called them, because they did not reflect the "culture of caring" he sought to promote.

But now the conversation has reached a point at Seven Springs that it has caught more parents' attention. And at least one is not pleased. …

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Transfer requests for Pinellas teachers should be in today

Pinellas County teachers looking to make a change need to put in their requests to transfer by today. 

The window for voluntary transfers opened Feb. 17 and closes today. Teachers will get another chance to put in a request this year, starting April 28 and ending June 19, according to a district memo. Principals will make their recommendations next week for reappointments for the 2014/15 school year. 

Transfer requests typically have been highest at the school district's most challenging schools.

Last year, Melrose Elementary had the highest request rate, with 71 percent of the instructional staff asking to be moved. Lakewood Elementary wasn't far behind, with 70 percent of the staff requesting a change, followed by Belcher Elementary (68 percent,) Campbell Park Elementary (63 percent,) Fairmount Park Elementary (60 percent) and Sandy Lane Elementary (60 percent.)

It will be interesting to see what the transfer request rates are for Melrose and Fairmount Park, both of which have gone through staff restructuring this year as part of the state's differentiated accountability process. Teachers were offered $3,000 recruitment bonuses this year to work in those schools. 

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Make Florida school grades meaningful, Pasco superintendent tells lawmakers

Pasco schools superintendent Kurt Browning has called upon state lawmakers to create a more meaningful system to grade Florida schools as they transition to a new model.

He has suggested a more detailed formula that takes into account indicators that more accurately demonstrate whether schools are successful:

"Similar to the high-school grading formula, the elementary and middle school grading formulas would consider additional lagging indicators to accurately measure education priorities, such as early literacy and numeracy, attendance rates, behavior rates, retention rates or student/faculty/staff survey data, as well as international benchmark data. For such a school grading system to be truly meaningful, each school grade, whether it is a letter grade or not, would be linked to cascading 'leading indicators' and results."

Browning urged a move away from using simple proficiency measures, suggesting they too often simply reflect factors from outside the school. Using growth or some type of value-added measure would be more valuable, he wrote. …

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Florida education news: Charter school, sign language, VAM scores and more

WHOSE IDEA? Gov. Rick Scott recommended that Charter Schools USA seek to open a charter school at MacDill Air Force Base, records show.

TALKING WITH YOUR HANDS: Students at Explorer K-8 create an American Sign Language club.

DON'T ASK, DON'T PAY: The Dade City government should not charge the Pasco School Board a new stormwater utility fee, the Times editorializes.

KEEP IT PRIVATE: The Gates Foundation supports using VAM scores to evaluate teachers, but not making the scores public, the Washington Post reports. • Some Florida teachers challenge the accuracy of the VAM data Florida released this week, the Florida Times-Union reports. More from the Hechinger Report.

MORE TEACHERS: Orange County enters talks to bring Teach For America into its poorest schools, the Orlando Sentinel reports.

TOUGH CUTS: Brevard residents say they're 'disgusted' by new budget reduction proposals, Florida Today reports.

FREEBIES: The Polk school district will give away its surplus books to the public, the Ledger reports. …

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Lawmakers lay groundwork for tweaks to school grading formula

The Senate Education Committee on Thursday filed a key bill that will allow lawmakers to tweak the controversial school grading formula.

SPB 7060 is pretty much identical to state Education Commissioner Pam Stewart's proposal for revamping the A-F grading system.

Stewart has suggested simplifing the formula by removing bonus points and the so-called triggers that automatically cause a school grade to drop. She also wants to remove some graduation rates and college readiness measures from the formula used to evaluate high schools.

On Thursday, Senate Education Committee Chairman John Legg called Stewart's plan a "starting point" for a larger discussion.

Legg, R-Trinity, said he spent the week talking to superintendents about the formula. He plans to address some of their lingering concerns on Tuesday, when the proposed bill comes before the Senate Education Committee.

Among the issues lawmakers will tackle: making sure the formula is fair to English-language learners and that it adequately addresses student growth. …

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Bill promotes three-year transition to Florida Standards, teacher performance pay

For months, school superintendents have been asking the state to slow down the transition to new standards, statewide exams and accountability measures.

On Thursday, the CEO of the Florida Association of District School Superintendents (a.k.a. Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee) put that request into a formal legislative proposal.

The bill, SB 1368, seeks to ease Florida school districts into the new accountability system.

There's a lot going on. Districts must fully transition to the new education benchmarks known as the Florida Standards by next year. The state Department of Education expects to introduce new, computer-based state tests at that time, too. (The exams have yet to be selected.)

What's more, the department is in the middle of rolling out a new performance-pay program for teachers.

Many educators worry they won't be prepared to teach and test the new standards by next year. And superintendents are concerned they won't have accesss to the technology needed for computer-based testing. …

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Weatherford says he 'woke up' on issues affecting the poor

When the 2014 legislative session opens next week, House Speaker Will Weatherford will be strongly supporting education bills that would open doors for poor people.

There’s a bill to bring down college tuition for children of undocumented immigrants, a bill expanding private school scholarships for low-income students, and a push to better fund early childhood education.

The Republican leader told the Tampa Bay Times editorial board Thursday that it’s all the result of a personal epiphany he experienced recently. Here is some of what he said: …

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Anti-Common Core activists hold out hope for new Florida legislation

Sen. Greg Evers' decision to file a bill to stop the Common Core in Florida has encouraged Core opponents who had begun to lose hope in the wake of the State Board of Education's move to maintain the standards with a few small amendments.

Laura Zorc, co-founder of Florida Parents Against Common Core, quickly issued a statement in support after the bill emerged Wednesday.

"Senator Evers and Representative (Debbie) Mayfield are to be commended for their tenacity to stand up for the children in our state," Zorc wrote. "We are in a 3 week crunch to get these bills heard and through the education committees. Expected resistance from these education committee members is expected over the next few weeks.  However, we ask for the committees to be respectful to our concerns and allow the bills to be heard. 

"The parents, and now the superintendents and Florida PTA have called for a minimum 3 year 'pause' to the implementation of the standards and testing. It is unclear why this administration is blatantly ignoring our unified concerns and unclear why they seem to be the only ones in favor of a rush when much is at stake." …

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Pasco teacher laments Florida's direction on testing of profoundly disabled students

Sabrina Berger has taught children with profound disabilities for 18 years. Lately she's become so discouraged with Florida's accountability trends that her husband encouraged Berger to express her concerns to someone in charge.

Berger hesitated. "I didn't think anybody cared," she said.

Ultimately, she sent an e-mail to Pasco County superintendent Kurt Browning, who has some powerful friends of his own. The Florida Education Association also has taken up the issue.

Now the question of whether these children should be required to take tests, and their teachers should be evaluated by the results, has come front and center.

Berger said she was glad to know someone was listening and taking her concerns seriously. "I love this job," she said.

Read on for her full e-mail to Browning.

Dear Mr. Browning,

I am emailing you to respectfully ask for your help for special diploma ESE teachers with the new teacher evaluation process. I have a B.A. and an M.S. in Special Education. I am also National Board Certified in teaching students with severe disabilities. I have been teaching the students with the most severe level of mental retardation for 18 years.  …

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Florida education news: Testing, locker checks, Tasers and more

FIX THIS:  The demand grows to end Florida's testing of profoundly disabled students and evaluating their teachers on the results.

FAIRNESS: A bipartisan group of Florida lawmakers take steps to provide in-state tuition to the children of illegal immigrants living in the state.

LOCKER CHECKS: Law enforcement trains dogs to sniff out guns on Pinellas County school grounds.

DON'T TASE ME, BRO: A deputy uses a Taser to break up a student fight at McLane Middle School in Brandon.

BAD ANSWER: Florida Sen. John Legg has identified a real problem in too much student testing, but proposed the wrong solution, the Times editorializes.

TAKE YOUR TIME: Florida education commissioner Pam Stewart should heed superintendents and others calling for more time to get the state's school grading system right, the Ledger editorializes.

SCHOOL SAFETY: The Brevard school district reorganizes its security system, the Brevard Times reports.

BAD ACTS: A fired teacher at a Marion military school is accused of inappropriate relations with two students, the Ocala Star-Banner reports. …

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How does Florida's VAM work (in English)?

With this week's release of Florida teacher value-added, or VAM, scores, much has been said about how the complex statistical formula is unfair, imperfect, "junk science" and worse. "I will not dignify VAM's flawed and intellectually limited examination, celebrate its pseudo-high flyers, or bemoan its negative outliers," Miami-Dade superintendent Alberto Carvalho wrote on his Twitter account.

One frequent criticism of the system is that it's incomprehensible to most people, including teachers, and as such its public release means little. Chances are that anyone who uses the VAM numbers will do so incorrectly, observers said, trying to say one teacher or school is better or worse than another.

It prompted the question: how does the Department of Education actually calculate VAM scores? If you know what goes into the formula, and how it's accounted for, then perhaps you can determine whether comparisons are in order.

So we asked the DOE for an English-language explanation of how VAM works. The response was two pages long, and though complicated, easier to understand than the mathematical equation that makes so many people scratch their heads. …

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Florida senator files anti-Common Core bill

A week after the Florida Board of Education affirmed the state's commitment to the Common Core State Standards, a state senator has submitted legislation aiming to stop the standards from taking effect.

Sen. Greg Evers, R-Pensacola, filed a bill (SB 1316) that's identical to a measure proposed by Rep. Debbie Mayfield in the House. Mayfield's HB 25 has picked up four of the House's most conservative members as co-sponsors, but has not made any headway during committee weeks despite being assigned to three committees.

Senate leaders have shown even less interest in stopping the Common Core -- now referred to as the Florida Standards after a handful of small changes -- than their counterparts in the House. Senate President Don Gaetz has made clear he doesn't see the standards as a federal conspiracy, and he's had his education chairman make clear that the Senate wants to hear of specific concerns, not overarching accusations or complaints.

Both bills seek to prevent implementation of the Common Core until several public hearings can take place and a financial impact analysis is completed. The DOE recently held several public hearings before adopting the revised standards. …

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Pinellas moves public comment to end of meeting

The public will have to wait until after the Pinellas County School Board's regular meetings conclude to make comments about items not on the regular agenda. 

Board members voted unanimously Tuesday to move general comments from before the meeting until after. Chairwoman Carol Cook said the intention was to make the meetings run more efficiently. Often, she said, there are only two speakers before the meetings, which then results in a lag time between public comment and the official start of the meeting. Or, like Tuesday night, there are a dozen speakers and the comment period runs into the start of the meeting.

Members of the public still will be able to speak to items on the agenda during the regular meeting. The change also will have no affect on the board's work sessions in which the public isn't allowed to speak at all.

With the change, board meetings will start a half hour earlier. Regular meetings now will start at 10 a.m. and 5 p.m.

The School Board used to have general comments at the end of the meeting. Board members agreed to change the practice with the intention of later revisiting whether it had been worthwhile.

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Pinellas fires special education aide

The Pinellas County School Board fired Tuesday a special education aide who had a history of problems and poor performance. 

The vote was unanimous to accept the recommendation of an administrative law judge and fire Rose Dacanay, a classroom aide at Paul B. Stephens Exceptional Student Education Center in Clearwater. She has been out of the classroom for a year following superintendent Mike Grego's original recommendation that she be fired. Dacanay had appealed to the state.

Dacanay, who spoke at the board meeting, denied the allegations against her. Those included: that she endangered students in wheelchairs by not restraining them properly, didn't follow instructions, and incorrectly put an arm splint on a student.

She said she had no regrets.

"I have peace in my heart because I know I made a positive difference," she told the School Board.

The School Board's purpose Tuesday was not to try Dacanay's case. Board members were to decide only if they wanted to accept the recommendation of the administrative law judge. …

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Pasco administrators, non-bargaining employees to get raises

Pasco County teachers and school-related personnel won their first pay raises in six years back in October. The School Board ratified contracts giving teachers 4.6 percent, on average, and SRP's 5.6 percent.

Now it's the rest of the district employees' turn.

Superintendent Kurt Browning has recommended new salary schedules for administrators and non-bargaining personnel (such as buyers and finance assistants) that would permanently increase their pay by 4 percent and 4.8 percent, respectively. While budgeting, the School Board agreed to set aside a portion of its operating expenses to cover pay hikes for any workers who were not covered by raise money coming from the state.

Currently, the district's highest paid administrator (not counting the superintendent) makes $110,000, and only three employees (including the superintendent) make $100,000 or more. The new salary structure would allow assistant superintendents to earn as much as $129,568. The pay for nonbargaining employees would depend upon their job classifications.

If approved the raises salary schedules would be retroactive to the beginning of the school year. The School Board signed off on the actual raises in the fall.

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